Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska

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After having read The Fault in Our Stars, I decided to pick up John Green’s first book, and I was not disappointed.  I really enjoyed this and am again pleasantly pleased with how Green can write so convincingly of teenage thoughts, feelings, etc.  I tried another of his books, Paper Towns, and I didn’t like it at all and stopped reading it.  (Wondering if anyone else felt the same?).  I will now try one of his other books soon.  This was really good and I would recommend it.

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Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock

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Although I read this book back in January, I never remembered to post a review.  Maybe it’s because I typically read more books per month than I review and some titles just slip through the cracks… but I prefer to think my subconscious was just saving this review for Banned Books Week!

I think this book is a likely target for would-be censors for a couple of reasons.  Not only are there the typical objectionable language and sexual situations that many people cite when challenging a book, but there is also the fact that the entire story revolves around Leonard Peacock’s plans to carry out a murder-suicide.  I understand that some people worry about teens being impressionable and mimicking the behavior of a character in a book, but I take umbrage with that reasoning.  After all, studies have shown that fiction can actually teach kids empathy.

While I agree, in theory, that it would be nice to be able to shield children from all of the terrible things that exist in our world, I recognize that it’s impossible.  Instead, I feel that it’s important to be open and honest so that my kids and the kids/teens I work with at my library feel comfortable enough to come to me if and when they find themselves in a troubling situation.  Rather than keeping this book out of the hands of teens for fear that a troubled teen who reads this book will decide to plan his/her own murder-suicide, I believe it is extremely important to make this book available.  Why?  Because I believe in the power of biliotherapy and think it is much more likely that teens who are struggling will learn from Leonard’s various mistakes, including his mistaken belief that he should end his life rather than seeking help.  Readers who enjoyed 13 Reasons Why should definitely check this one out.

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The Sin-Eater’s Confession by Ilsa J. Bick

The Sin-Eater's Confession

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After Del died in a car accident, Ben started helping out on Del’s family’s farm.  While working on the farm, Ben started to look out for and became friends with Del’s younger brother, Jimmy, in a capacity much like an older brother.  After Jimmy was murdered, Ben felt guilty and escaped his home town by enlisting in the armed forces and heading to Afghanistan.  This story is told from Ben’s perspective, in a diary-style letter to someone back home, as he reflects back over the series of events that lead to Jimmy’s death and explains why he feels responsible.  The graphic description of Jimmy’s violent death definitely makes this a book for more mature readers, and I am sure some people would ultimately like to see this book banned.  I think, nevertheless, that this suspense-filled story is a great way to draw in readers who might not otherwise think they’d enjoy a story that explores such heavy themes as homophobia and hate crimes.  A definite departure from the apocalyptic world of Ashes, but equally well written.

Happy Banned Books Week!

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Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Two Boys Kissing

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It wouldn’t be Banned Books Week without a review of a GLBT book, since so many would-be censors take umbrage with the fact that GLBT novels even exist.  So, I am taking this opportunity to finally review a book one of my teens suggested I read during GLBT Pride Month.  The basic premise of this story was that two [gay] boys were attempting to break the Guinness World Record for the longest kiss.  The strangest thing, though, was that they were not boyfriends.  They were, in fact, ex-boyfriends.  But, Harry and Craig were not kissing merely for the fun of kissing or even just to break the existing world record.  In fact, kissing for 32 hours was a rather grueling experience, both physically and emotionally.  But their 32-hour-long kiss was worth all of the difficulties it presented because it was a statement of support for their mutual friend, Tariq, who was the victim of a hate crime.  Although the “Greek chorus” of narrators — men who had died of AIDS — seemed a bit clunky at times, I think that narration ultimately worked as a means by which to educate younger readers about (late 20th century) GLBT history, the progress the GLBT community has made thus far, and how far we still have to go.  I really enjoyed this story, though I have to admit to shedding a tear or two.  I highly recommend this for fans of other David Levithan books (like Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Every Day) and suspect that it will likely end up on many YA literature syllabi as required GLBT reading.

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Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Reality Shock!

Ripley's Believe It or Not

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I find it rather amusing that my 9-year-old son can’t handle seeing tiny hairballs on the floor from his beloved pet cat, but that he was completely enthralled by the FOUR POUND tiger hairball (picture on pg. 9) that was the size of a basketball! Looking through these books with my son, I always alternate between fascination and disgust.  And even though my own disgust sometimes outweighs my fascination, there’s something magical about bringing home a book that makes your child jump up and down with excitement and beg for just a few more pages before he has to go to bed.

Some of the most fascinating items in this issue were:

  • the skateboarding mice who can even jump through a ring of fire (pp. 14-15)
  • a woman named Barbie Thomas who, despite losing both of her arms at 2 years of age, has gone on to compete in fitness contests (pg. 97)
  • the man who took a picture of himself every single day for 12 years — a total of 4,514 photos! (pg. 152)
  • the Canadian base jumper who, after becoming paralyzed in a 2004 BASE-jumping accident, now jumps in his wheelchair (pg. 175)
  • the pumpkin artists (pp. 208-209) who are capable of turning pumpkins into sculptures of ghouls, goblins, and monsters

And some of the more disgusting items were:

  • the bedside table made from an actual, stuffed sheep (pg. 29)
  • the Sufi holy man who used a sharp stick to practically gouge out his own eye during the Urs religious festival in Ajmer, India (pg. 41)
  • the short-horned lizards that squirt blood from their eyes as a defense mechanism to scare off predators (pg. 90)
  • the “snot shots” (pg. 201) from artist Ulf Lundin’s Bless You project, in which people sneezed at a camera without covering their mouth/nose… ack!

If you’re looking for a conversation-starting/engrossing book to share with a tween, the Ripley’s books are a pretty sure bet.

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The Iron Trial: Book One of The Magisterium by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

The Iron Trial

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My son and I both love fantasy fiction, and we’re both suckers for ARCs from beloved authors… So, when I heard that Holly Black and Cassandra Clare were writing a middle-grade fantasy series together, I just knew I had to get my hands on a copy of this ARC.  (The good news for anyone reading this review is that the book came out September 9th and you can read it without scheming to find an ARC!)

And do you know what was even better than opening a random, unexpected package to find a copy of this ARC?  When it arrived in the mail on the very day that we were ready to start a new book.  Awesomesauce!  I knew these authors were awesome and that a collaboration between them was likely to be epic, but I also kind of expected that this book would be somewhat formulaic and predictable, like many of the other middle-grade fantasies I’ve read.  Thankfully, I was wrong.  Although there were some parallels to other books we’ve read, the story was fresh and there were a couple of plot twists that blew our minds!

Callum’s father has always taught him that magic is bad and that the Magisterium, a school that teaches adolescents how to hone their magical abilities, is evil.  So, when Callum had to go in to test his magical acuity at the Magisterium, he did his best to fail.  For some reason, nevertheless, Master Rufus chose Callum to be one of his apprentices.  Even though neither he nor his father wanted him to attend, being selected meant that Callum had to go to the Magisterium… As soon as he started to learn how to use his magic and began to make friends, though, Callum started to wonder if maybe his dad was wrong after all…

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Love, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Love, Stargirl

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Thanks to this audiobook, I now know that September 8th is the anniversary of the day that Stargirl (aka Susan Caraway) first laid eyes on Leo Borlock.  As she strolled through the Mica High cafeteria with her ukelele and sang Happy Birthday to some other unsuspecting stranger, she saw the fear in Leo’s eyes as he worried that she might come and sing to him.  Of all the stuff that happened in this story, Stargirl’s remembrance of that day was a pretty small thing, but it really stuck with me.  Why?  Because *MY* birthday is September 8th!  Though I seriously doubt Jerry Spinelli wrote that into his book for me, I wonder if he’s friends with Jon Scieszka and used that reference as a shout out to him.  (Yeah. I share a birthday with Jon Scieszka — and Jo Knowles — how awesome is that?!?)

Anyhow… I like the fact that this book was written as a letter from Stargirl to Leo in diary form.  It was cool to see things from her perspective this time.  I mean, it was easy enough to see from Leo’s narration (in Stargirl) that she was a free spirit, but it was cool to see exactly how her thought process worked.  I am most definitely a “Type A” personality, so it took a lot for me to get into her head and to understand where she was coming from, but it made a little more sense as she explained herself.  Living without clocks, for example, seems kinda cool — but I think I would go batty after only a day or two.

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